From the UMass Extension:
November 15, 2018
High tunnels have been planted and greens are up, while in the field, roots are being dug. Fields are being put to bed and equipment stored away ahead of today’s predicted snow. November is a time when we can look back and reflect upon the growing season, so we chose to share a reflection from one of you. We heard from many of you that this year was the most challenging yet because of the weather. Why? Here is a synopsis from farmer Harrison Bardwell in Hatfield, MA.
It's nearing the bittersweet end of the growing season here at Bardwell Farm. We are cleaning up the rest of the winter squash out of the fields before the frost, taking up plastic, and putting all of the fields to bed. Seems like a normal routine right? You would think so, but area farmers behind the scenes have been having one heck of a time this year.
We want to take some time in this blog to reflect, not negatively, but more to explain some of the difficulties of being at the mercy of Mother Nature during Season 2018.
Early spring was cold and we were excited to get planting. Temperatures were below average across much of the state which made warming soil temps difficult. In between very cool days and the warmer days, we managed to get the first transplants in the ground. Cabbage and chard settings sat in the soil for almost a month with minimal growth. This led to a lot of dampening-off (seedling death) and cabbage root maggot desiccation. A root maggot is an insect that eats the roots of crops such as cabbage, radish, and broccoli.
Below is a picture of the first setting of cabbage I'm talking about.
We got through the cold spell and were blessed with average rainfall through the early weeks of May, this helped us plant all of the main season crops. We even had to irrigate here and there because there wasn't enough rain. Local farmers were saying it was almost drought conditions by this time. Below you can see me irrigating scallions. May is the month for planting and we sure nailed that!
Conditions were really good through most of June, then on June 19th is when things turned for the worse. June 28th started these crazy rain spells, getting 3.5" of rain in one day! Luckily crops were still in their smaller stage so not much damage was done. If you think about it though that's almost enough rain for a month in just one day! There are a few pictures below that demonstrate how the rain can effect crops in just one storm.
Through the rest of July and August we dealt with constant above average temperatures and excessive rain, it really took a tole on both the farm crew and crops. We had average temps in the mid 90's with high humidity, which made work very difficult to keep up with the crops, weeds, and daily life on the farm.
Crops grew so fast that sweet corn settings were coming in on top of each other. Vine crops such as winter squash and pumpkins matured in the first weeks of August! Winter squash and pumpkins are supposed to mature by mid September, but the hot humid weather we had pushed things along too quickly. These crops love the heat! Sometimes too much which can change harvest dates for crops that are more of a cool seasonal crop.
Heat and humidity, coupled with the excessive rain, took a major tole. Crops just rotted in the soil they were planted in because of the amount of moisture in the ground and in the air. Many crops were lost and we experienced a major decrease in crop yields. The bottom line, too much rain!
This season was also a struggle with pests, soil borne diseases, and weed control.
The insect pressure has been incredible this year because of flea beetles, an insect that munches on cabbage and other crops love the heat. The excessive rot, rain, and humid conditions made the population of fruit flies explode both in storage and in field with crops such as tomatoes, fruits, and basically anything that had potential to rot because of the weather.
Soil borne disease like Phytophthora Capsici which attacks crops such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, winter, summer squash, and pumpkins is a killer in the wet seasons. Most fields in the Pioneer valley are infested with this disease which is nearly impossible to get rid of. This is a fungal disease that is only active in saturated soil (moves in water) and can persist dormant in soils for up to 7 years. This disease can travel on equipment or your shoe from field to field. It infects crops by attacking the roots and slowly cutting the water and food source to the plants. This disease wiped out many of of our winter squash, peppers and tomatoes decreasing our yields.
Lastly, weeds have been a struggle to control this year. So much rain has made cultivating and other weed control tactics difficult to maintain because of the mere fact of not being able to physically enter the fields. The result was a lot of weeding and coping with reduced yields... basically, we couldn't keep up with the amount of weed germination and growth because of the rain and heat. Quick fact, most weeds love the heat and don't mind the rain because they are acclimated to this area.
No one ever said farming would be easy, but this year sure pushed many of the farmers in the valley to their limits. There was much learned this season, much lost and gained at the same time. To me, a season like this one made farming real.
There are major downfalls in choosing a career and life like this one, but we cannot let this stop us. We have to push through the difficulties and harvest the crops that grew the best for us. It was a great season to see which varieties held up better than others under these extreme conditions, which ones were resistant to certain diseases and weather conditions, and ones that failed miserably. We look at the 2018 season as an experience, not a loss.
We hope this sheds some light on the season and the life of local farmers.
From all of us here at Bardwell Farm thank you for your support!
We were interview by CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) recently for their new video series "Breaking Ground: Beginning Farmer Stories", highlighting young people in farming. Have a look!
Many thanks to the CISA crew for the opportunity and featuring our humble little farm, outstanding job!
In the spring of last year we were contacted by UMass student Isabel Brofsky to participate in a bird and vegetation study. We were excited and jumped at the opportunity and invited Isabel to our farm.
After several visits and rounds of study she presented us with her analysis and it was pretty amazing! We were surprised at the diversity of birds our little farm hosted.
Have a look at the report it's an invaluable insight for us farmers and interesting information that we don’t typically think of.
A big thank you to Isabel and her team for including us in her important work!
Bird & Vegetation Study: Bardwell Farm
Isabel Brofsky, MS Student
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts Amherst
This American Robin became a familiar sight as the season went on. I was able to recognize it individually because of the unique white patches on its wings, caused by a genetic mutation known as leucism.
Field Season Review
The purpose of this field season was to collect data on the abundance and species diversity of birds and quantify their habitats. I completed three rounds of bird surveys over the course of the summer, each time performing 10-minute standardized point counts of all birds within a 50-meter radius. During each point count I recorded the number and species of birds I observed, as well as which habitats they were occupying and any feeding or breeding behaviors they were exhibiting. I also conducted two rounds of habitat surveys, which I completed by dividing the area of the 50-meter radius point count circle into distinct land cover types (i.e.orchard, cover crop, woodland, etc.) and measuring the height
and density of the vegetation and identifying the plants present throughout each land cover type. I began these surveys in around late May and finished in mid-July to coincide with the breeding season of most species in this region.
Highlights of the Field Season
Not only was Bardwell Farm one of the smallest farms I surveyed over the course of the summer, it also was located in one of the most developed or suburban areas that I visited. Because of these two points, I did not anticipate Bardwell having a very long species list. I was, however, proved totally wrong. With a list of 40 bird species and a total of 225 individuals, Bardwell was a remarkably diverse and unique farm that surpassed my expectations. Due to Bardwell’s more suburban surroundings, I observed a number of species that are uniquely adapted to human-altered habitats. Chimney Swifts were a common aerial visitor, as well as Rock Pigeon and Eastern Kingbird. On my very first visit to the farm, I observed a pair of Redtailed Hawks perched and calling from the top of one of the trees on the edge of the farm. Although I didn’t see them on any subsequent visits, I wouldn’t be surprised if they nested somewhere nearby. The only Canada Geese I saw at any farm all season long were in the grassy fields adjacent to the farm.
While many of the birds I recorded on and around the farm were suburban species, I also observed a diverse array of woodland and shrubland birds as well. The forested areas at the edge of the farm produced species such as Warbling Vireo, American Redstart, and Yellow Warbler. The big hickory tree near the main field was a magnet for songbirds. The list of species that I observed in that single tree includes Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal, Downy Woodpecker, and Song Sparrow. As I have started my data analysis, Song Sparrows have become more and more of interest to my research. A common but declining species in the Northeast, Song Sparrows were present on small farms like Bardwell in higher densities than any other natural and managed habitats in this region. They were also one of the most common species that I observed feeding in and around
row crops, and because they feed primarily on insects during the breeding season, it is possible they are providing an ecosystem service in the form of insect pest control.
With a field season complete, my primary tasks were to enter all of my data into my computer and organize it so that it could be used in future data analyses. With that step finished, I have recently been working on some preliminary Song Sparrow analyses to determine the major habitat characteristics (vegetation height, density, cover of different habitat types, etc.) that are driving bird abundance and occurrence on these farms. I will also be preparing for a second field season this summer.
The following list includes all species observed or heard in and around the farm (not just those observed during 10-minute point counts) across the combined three visits. I have highlighted shrubland birds in green because many of these species are declining in this region due to habitat loss and their presence on these farms is of interest to my project. Another of my interests is the extent to which birds are feeding on farm pests, so I have also included a brief description of the diets of potentially beneficial species. Here I define a beneficial species as one whose diet during the breeding season is composed of over 50% animal and/or insect matter and whose feeding behavior would allow it to potentially feed on a farm pest.Bir
You asked and we listened, new winter squash varieties are coming to the fall harvest!
Bush Delicata Squash
We've never grown this variety before and we're pretty excited! The cylindrical, 8" long fruit has a bright yellow-orange flesh. The texture is smooth with a mild nutty flavor and reminiscent of a sweet potato.
Primavera Spaghetti Squash
This is a uniform variety with canary yellow skin color at maturity. Bake with your favorite red sauce and a little parmesan, mangia!
Festival Acorn Squash
The fruit is deeply ribbed and striped with a wide, slightly rounded bottom. Flesh is peach-colored, similar to an acorn squash but with superior sweet flavor and texture.
Three new varieties of peppers to spice up your weekly menu!
This variety is sweet and green, has thick walls and a traditional block shape. It's perfect for summer salads, fajitas, and stuffed peppers.
Red Rocket Pepper
This cayenne chile pepper is tapered, thin-walled, and about 5 to 6" long. It dries quickly to a bright crimson red. These dried fruits have tender flesh which is nice and soft when cooked.
The largest jalapeno offering! The fruit averages 4 to 4 1/2" and are slow to check (to show small cracks in skin). A great addition to any menu requiring heat.
So many of you have asked about herbs and again, we listened!
2 to 3" long glossy and cupped leaves with a classic Genovese Basil aroma.
Dark Opal Basil
Purple with 20% variegated green tips make this variety colorful and unique. It's sweet and spicy, slightly stronger anise flavor than the common green sweet basil, with mild ginger undertones and a robust aroma.
For all you pickling lovers! Edible seeds and greens with a flavor profile of fennel, anise and celery, with warm, slightly bitter undertones. A popular addition to sauces and a must for making Hatfield Pickles.
Stay tuned for updates as we will be adding thyme, oregano, and more!
We hope you enjoy these new products as much as we will enjoy growing them.
As always, we love your feedback, please share your wish list, ideas, and/or comments below. Thanks for reading!
TOMATOES! TOMATOES! TOMATOES! This year we are introducing a plethora of new tomato varieties; any where from large juicy heirlooms to the sweet little grapes!
Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato
A famously rich flavor and meaty texture make this a colorful favorite among heirloom enthusiasts.
Brandywine Heirloom Tomato
This variety has a luscious heirloom flavor and described as very rich, loud, and distinctively spicy. The fruit is often large, over 1lb, has a deep pink skin, and smooth red flesh.
Striped German Heirloom Tomato
This variety produces a flat, medium to large fruit, with a yellow and red meaty flesh. The marbled interior looks beautiful sliced!
Sun Gold Cherry Tomato
"Candy Tomatoes" as I like to call them are bright tangerine-orange and sun-kissed sweet.
Black Cherry Tomato
This variety has a dramatic flavor very similar to heirloom tomatoes and compliment chop salads perfectly.
Sunrise Bumble Bee Tomato
This tomato is bite-sized with red stripes and pink interior marbling. A gorgeous combination of yellows and reds, inside and out. Excellent sweet and tangy flavor.
Purple Top Turnip
An awesome addition to our fall display! This turnip is popular because of its shape, rich taste and attractive appearance.
We are introducing two varieties, Megaton and Takrima. Cousins to the onion, both have medium blue-green foliage with refined bright white shanks. Mild in flavor and a perfect compliment to your kitchen.
Two different varieties to choose from! Nabechan and Evergreen Hardy White, both have sweet and complex flavors. Evergreen Hardy White will compliment the fall harvest and will overwinter.
In the summer squash category we are introducing spineless varieties making picking a little easier!
Spineless Beauty Squash
The squash is a favorite late season variety producing big yields of uniform, long, cylindrical, and medium green fruit. Excellent steamed, sautéed and juiced, a staple in a summer kitchen.
Noche Zucchini Squash
An attractive, dark-green, cylindrical squash that is earthy and mildly sweet.
Join us next week for Part 3 of the 2018 Season Preview!
Today we celebrate Earth Day, but it shouldn't be the only day of the year we acknowledge the big blue marble we live on. Now more than ever It is an every day fight for it's health and protection. The very soil we live and grow our food on is at risk and we need it now more than ever. Without rich and fertile soil, clean air and water, our ecosystem becomes nonexistent. We have to do more.
Millions and millions of people will be taking part in local events to demonstrate why they care about the environment and why it's so important to be a voice in this cause. My wish is to celebrate all yearlong so that our children's children have an Earth to farm, to picnic, walk barefoot in the grass, and enjoy what we have so taken advantage of. Please take a moment today to realize how important Mother Earth is to us.
How will you celebrate Earth Day?
We are so excited about our new high tunnel! Wait, what? You're not really sure what a high tunnel is? Let me tell you all about it...
A high tunnel is a non permeant structure that is used for growing crops in the soil and/or raised beds. It's primarily used to extend the growing season by having a controlled growing environment. This new system will give Bardwell Farm the capability to grow a quality crop much longer.
As many of you know we started this project back in November as we were closing for the season. We started by laying out the demensions on the land where the structure was going to sit. This was a process of applying the dimensions, then grading and leveling the land to make it as flat as possible. It's important to build the structure level and true, it makes a world of difference and helps the building process go that much smoother.
After the leveling process we lined-up 4 foot pipes that would make the base of the structure. These were spaces every 4 feet in a row on each side of the field. The pipes were pounded about 2 feet into the earth to create the foundation for the high tunnel.
Frame bows were assembled off site then brought in to be put in place. The bows were so light three of us were able to pick them up and slide them into place. Once completed we tied the structure together using purlins, cross ties, and corner braces. These were all bolted together to make it solid.
This part of the project went up fast! We encountered some challenges with end wall design and bad weather hindering progress. It slowed us down a bit, but didn't halt our work. We decided to use 4X4" posts as structural supports to hold the end walls to the ground and structure. It's quite difficult working with round metal pipe and wood. We finally came up with the perfect design plan to build these end walls. The lower half is going to be shiplap boards and the top will be a polycarbonate double layer honeycomb hard plastic that will allow light into the structure.
Once the doors are mounted on to the end walls the next step is putting the plastic on the roof. This is a BIG TASK! We'll need a good size crew of people. A double layer of plastic will be added to the rough of the structure. One is an infrared plastic to capture sunlight and hold in heat. The top layer of plastic is clear to let sunlight in. Lastly, near the roof, a small blower fan will be installed to create an air gap between the two plastic layers. This is used to make an insulation layer to help retain heat inside the high tunnel during cold parts of the spring and fall seasons.
The last step is adding the irrigation system and horizontal ventilation fans to create the most efficient environment for growing our crops. I cannot wait to finish this up, we are so close!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for The High Tunnel Project: Part 2 coming end March.
Here at Bardwell Farm we are always looking for new fruits and vegetables to incorporate more diversity for your dinner plate. This season we are introducing several new products and varieties to what we are already growing, as well as fresh herbs to add zip to your menus. Here is Part 1 of our 2018 Season Preview!
Purple Haze Carrots
The Purple Haze variety has a striking color with a deep purple exterior and contrasting orange interior. It tastes sweet with a mild peppery flavor. It's perfect raw in salads, steamed side dish, and really amazing as a juiced beverage.
The Yellowstone variety has 6 to 8" long roots and are deeper in color than most other yellow carrot varieties. They have a mild earthiness flavor and they're notably a bit sweeter than orange, red, or purple carrots.
Cabbage Ruby Perfection
This is a number one mid to late red cabbage. The heads are medium-sized and dense with a uniform high-round shape and good wrapper leaves. The flavor is slightly peppery and a little deeper and earthier than green cabbage. It's color makes coleslaw and leafy green salad mixes beautiful.
Touchstone Gold Beets
This beet has smooth golden roots with bright yellow flesh and retain their color when cooked. They have a mild sweet earthy flavor.
The Avalon variety is larger with a bright orange color and a more uniformed shape. It has a mild nutty flavor and compared to that of a sweet potato.
This variety just may be better than the others, you can be the judge this fall! This winter squash is flavorful, nutritious and packed with numerous vitamins. It has that "autumn" taste that can be associated with pumpkin, just a bit sweeter.
Crimson Sweet Watermelon
Tasty and so refreshing, this variety has crisp, orange to red flesh, with a sweet summer flavor and small brown seeds. It's a 15 to 25lb melon perfect for parties and good times with friends!
Sugar Baby Watermelon
This variety is a smaller 8 to 12lb watermelon that is filled with sweet goodness. The firm solid flesh is bright red, crisp and delicious with small brown seeds.
Sugar Cube Muskmelon
This melon is personal-sized coming in at 2lbs. Although Sugar Cube is small it's big on taste with it's sweet deep orange flesh that has a superb eating quality.
Join us next week for Part 2 of the 2018 Season Preview!
Did you know soil is happiest when there's always something growing on its surface?
Cover crops are so simple yet have so many amazing features! From being used as a weed suppression tool to preventing and reducing disease pressure, cover crops are vital to cropping systems for so many reasons.
First of all, did you know a cover crop can almost never have a negative effect on a cropping system? Their only job is to build and benefit soil health in a natural way. Nothing sparks my interest more than improving soil health in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way!
It has always been our goal to use cover crops to feed my plants instead of conventional fertilizers. It creates a healthier environment for the plants and produces higher yields in an organic way.
What is a cover crop?
cov·er crop | noun
A crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil.
Why are cover crops so important?
Cover crops act as a barrier between the soil and the atmosphere. They are a huge benefit because they hold the soil in place during the fallow times of year, as well as feed the microbes in the soil that create vital nutrients that plants require to grow. Soil microbes, earthworms and insects are key to plant growth and development.
NOTE: Fallow is leaving a field out of production for a year so, while growing a cover crop, keeping it protected and rebuilding soil nutrients and overall health.
The cover crops roll in all of this is taking the carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil which the microbes feed from. Without cover cropping the soil is more prone to deteriorate with no structure holding it in place, flooding and erosion, and/or being blown away. The first 2 to 3 inches of top soil is some of the most important for growing. Without cover crops farming would be much more risky and difficult.
Here are examples of cover crops that are vital to farming:
This is a cool cover crop that is primarily used in the fall for holding the soil in place to prevent winds from taking it. This crop can germinate and grow in temperatures as low as 33F degrees. It also grows very rapidly giving lots of biomass and has an extensive root system for soil holding power. Winter Rye overwinters meaning it will keep growing in the spring again so it needs to be killed-off. The other benefit of Rye is it can be a forage crop meaning it can be cut for straw right before the rye goes to seed to make bales. This is a great way for farmers to bring in extra revenue while benefiting their fields.
NOTE: Biomass is plant matter. Grass that is produced from Rye and Sorghum cover crops are filled with nutrients that can be put back into the soil.
This cover crop also called Forage Radish or Dicon Radish. This is a fall-seeded Brassica that has a very neat feature. This crop acts as a natural subsoiling tool. It grows a large taproot to breakup soil compaction by creating holes in the soil for water drainage to reduce erosion problems. Tillage Radish winter-kills after a few hard frosts and breaks down by spring.
NOTE: Brassica is the scientific name for cold weather crops, species such as cabbage, broccoli, and radishes.
Peas & Oats
These cover crops work well as companions to optimize soil health. Peas are just a field pea that can be used as forage for animals. They are also a legume crop meaning they collect and store nitrogen so it does not leach or volatilize into the air. Peas can also be harvested and sold to specialty restaurants for salad mixes as well. There are many different benefits to this cover crop. Oats have a shallow root system but grow fast in warm weather and act as great biomass cover for in-between crops. They hold lots of nutrients and act as a great "green manure" crop to incorporate and plant into soon after. Both are winter killed and work well together to serve dual purposes.
NOTE: Volatilization is when nutrients are essentially evaporated into the atmosphere and are no longer taken into the soil for plant growth.
NOTE: Green manure crops are cover crops filled with nutrients that can be incorporated into the soil to feed microbes. They are full of organic matter, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus sources. A pure natural fertilization.
Cover Crop Cocktails
A cover crop cocktail is a mix of 2 to 3 different cover crops that work together in unison. For example, I use a mix of Peas, Oats, and Tillage Radish as a cover for a field that is going to be planted with Asparagus the next year. I use this mix because it will all winter-kill and asparagus has to be planted early. I also use it as weed suppression because of the high amount of biomass. The Peas are an awesome nitrogen source for the new roots going in. The Tillage Radish is to create good drainage and water absorption capacity as well.
This is a low lying crop that does best in cooler seasons. Red Clover is a short-lived perennial used to supply nitrogen. Unlike other legumes, it fixes a lot of nitrogen even in high-nitrogen soils. It has shade tolerance so it can be over-seeded into small grains and incorporated in May of the following year. Since Red Clover seedlings tend to be slow growing, it benefits from a nurse crop. It forms tap roots and is useful for remediation of compacted soils. Red Clover is also good for weed suppression. This crop can be seeded as early as February to March for frost seeding or from April to September depending on what you use it for! Blossoming is something that needs to be controlled in warmer temperatures. Such a small plant with endless benefits!
In the Northeast Mustard is used as a fall-planted cover crop that winter-kills. This crop thrives in cool conditions and can give 100% ground cover. It adds organic matter, breaks up hardpan, and suppresses weeds in the following crop. Soil-borne diseases may be suppressed by natural compounds found in the residue of crops such as mustard, cabbage, radishes. These act as natural defenses to certain soil borne diseases. There are three species of Mustard that behave similarly when sown in the fall. This is a very low maintain cover crop that offers a wide variety of advantages for your soil. It is best seeded between mid July and August. You will want to kill at the flower stage if not winter-killed already to prevent the Mustard from seeding-out and becoming a weed in the field. Great for a natural disease suppressant which is a great organic way of dealing with devastating diseases that are presented every season.
NOTE: Seeding-out is when the plant is it's final reproductive stage where it has matured all the way to produce viable seeds that can be replanted again to continue the life of it's species. At this point all the nutrient from the plant is pushed into the seed and lost. Incorporating this into the soil will create two negative scenarios. One, adding dead biomass that will take longer to breakdown and create a loss of nitrogen in the soil. Remember, nitrogen is used to break down dead matter. And two, you are creating field weeds from all the mature seed.
Sudangrass and Sorghum-sudangrass are midsummer grasses suitable for short 8 to 10 week plantings. These grasses are the most heat and drought-tolerant cover crops typically grown in the Northeast. Sudangrass growth is easier to manage because the stems are narrower. It can be sown earlier than Sorghum-sudangrass, and suppresses weeds better. These crops provide abundant root biomass, which is useful for increasing soil organic matter. Mowing encourages root growth. They suppress Root-knot nematodes and inhibit weed germination if densely sown. These are warm season cover crops that generally can be seeded between June through August.
NOTE: Nemetodes are beneficial and non-beneficial microbial worms that are both pathogens that attack and hurt pants and/or help defend-off other diseases and help with plant development.
I'm glad I was able to share my love of cover crops with you! There are so many varieties each with their own unique benefits. It's an endless opportunity for experimentation. We promise to keep you updated as we try different ones as the seasons progress.
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